I love Tina Fey. I’ve loved her since I was about 10 years old and started watching "30 Rock" with my parents.
Even as a kid, I saw myself in her portrayal of the nerdy, awkward, intelligent comedy writer Liz Lemon. Fey was a self-proclaimed feminist, and a great example of a powerful, funny, unapologetic woman with a strong network of funny female friends whom I also adored, including Amy Poehler and Rachel Dratch.
She has always been my favorite celebrity.
I’ve read her book "Bossypants" no less than five times, I’ve seen every project she’s written for, and I even dressed up as her for Halloween one year in middle school (specifically, my costume was Tina Fey’s SNL portrayal of Sarah Palin, though the teachers and students at my school just assumed I was dressed up as Sarah Palin; those heathens).
Recently, I’ve started seeing tons of articles popping up on social media detailing the insensitive or troublesome behavior of generally well-respected celebrities.
Through my reading, I’ve been exposed to the term “white feminism,” a sector of feminism that focuses primarily on the struggles of the “average” cis, able, moderately wealthy, white woman while ignoring the ways in which different factors like race, sexual orientation, and class can impact a woman’s experience.
I read about different influential people who were praised for being feminists, when in fact their behavior has proven that they hold no regard for intersectionality. I’ve also been reading about the ways in which many have used derogatory terms, mocked large groups of people, and appropriated other cultures without it having a detrimental effect on their public persona.
It was in this research that I started to hear my idol’s name thrown around in conjunction with the word “problematic.”
I read countless articles about Fey’s unsavory racial humor on her shows "30 Rock" and "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," ableism in 30 Rock, and her selective feminism which includes repeatedly making sex workers the punchlines of her jokes.
I was horrified.
For one, my idol, who I had always held to a such high standard, has a history of taking cheap shots for humor, mocking members of marginalized groups. Also, I was disappointed in myself for having such a blind spot when it came to Tina Fey’s humor.
How could I claim to be someone who wants to stamp out injustice in the world when one of my favorite TV shows had relied upon stereotypes and degradation for laughs?
From scouring the internet and seeing blog posts upon blog posts of “problematic faves,” I think it’s safe to say that nearly everyone’s favorite celebrity or public figure has said or done something that can be deemed offensive. Some of these actions are obviously reprehensible and are immediately condemned by society, and some are more subtle and often considered excusable by the general public.
This is not only limited to famous people though, nearly every person has said or done something insensitive or offensive.
Making the occasional offensive joke or ignorant comment doesn’t necessarily mean that a person is bad. Oftentimes it’s just a stage people go through before embarking on the journey to become a better, smarter person.
Like how everyone in middle school had super gelled hair or super dark eyeliner below their eyes. People make mistakes, and they grow to look back at their school pictures with horror. It’s a natural part of growing into a better human.
On Twitter, I recently saw another very funny writer and comedian I admire acknowledging her past problematic behavior. Gaby Dunn made a list of things she has done in her career as well as her personal life, that she considers to be problematic in some way.
In putting this on the internet for her fans and critics alike to see, Dunn is holding herself accountable, something that I think is important for people to do. Apologizing and acknowledging one’s mistakes won’t erase damage that has been done, but it often indicates that the person who did the hurting sees the error in his/her ways and is ready for growth.
When someone does or says something that is hurtful to others in some way, I think the brave and respectable thing to do is to stop and examine your behavior instead of shutting down others' feelings and refusing to take any blame for your actions.
What disappoints me most about Tina Fey is her refusal to acknowledge or learn from her critics who have pointed out the ways in which some of her writing has made them feel uncomfortable or isolated.
I wish she had listened to the feedback she received about problematic jokes on "30 Rock" to improve her writing and make it more inclusive.
Instead, her newest show "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" seems to have many of the same problems. Fey has dodged the criticism she received by refusing to comment, saying that her goal “is not to explain jokes.”
Her refusal to apologize or acknowledge her mistakes slightly reminds me of a certain large orange bully who is running for president, and if there's any incentive for someone to apologize, it should be to avoid having anything in common with Donald Trump.
Tina Fey is still my fave, albeit a somewhat problematic one. She was the first person I saw on TV that showed me that a woman can be the head writer of a comedy show, she was the first person I saw on TV who made me feel cool for being awkward and having bad eyesight, and she was the first woman I saw on TV speak vocally against sexism.
While I look up to her in so many ways, that doesn’t mean that I think she’s infallible.
I hope that she begins to listen to her critics and see their concerns as a way to improve her work instead of seeing them as attacking her.
Though I think she has made several mistakes, I truly don’t think Tina Fey has bad intentions, and she has even written multiple times about her quest to erase toxic biases she learned at a young age. But I am confident that she can do better as a brilliant comedian, and I think that everyone can strive to be better.